I've often talked about cancer here on the blog, from a purely scientific point of view. Today, though, I'll switch perspective, as I talk with women's fiction author Elizabeth Hein, who is about to release her book How to Climb the Eiffel Tower.
Lara Blaine believes that she can hide from her past by clinging to a rigid routine of work and exercise. She endures her self-imposed isolation until a cancer diagnosis cracks her hard exterior. Lara’s journey through cancer treatment should be the worst year of her life. Instead, it is the year that she learns how to live. She befriends Jane, another cancer patient who teaches her how to be powerful even in the face of death. Accepting help from the people around her allows Lara to confront the past and discover that she is not alone in the world. With the support of her new friends, Lara gains the courage to love and embrace life. Like climbing the Eiffel Tower, the year Lara meets Jane is tough, painful, and totally worth it.
Elizabeth writes women's fiction with a bit of a sharp edge. She is fascinated by how friendship and human connection can help a person through the most difficult moments in their lives. I actually won Elizabeth's book through a Goodreads giveaway (on a side note, Goodreads giveaways are awesome, if you guys haven't tried them yet, you should: you get to find out about so many new releases and you do win free books from time to time!), so I had to privilege to start the book early, and I'm already hooked by the main character's strong voice.
EEG: Welcome to CHIMERAS, Elizabeth!
I love the premise of your book: it offers a fresh take on disease, a hopeful and energetic one instead of a teary/sad one. I know from your bio that you are a cancer survivor yourself. How much of your personal experience is in the book and in particular in your main character, Lara?
EH: Lara's experiences in How To Climb The Eiffel Tower are only tangentially based on my own. I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a blood-related cancer, in 2002 and was far more ill than Lara is in the book. Then again, I had far more support. I was a 34-year-old mother of two young girls when I was sick, so family surrounded me the entire time. My parents and my in-laws took excellent care of my girls and me. Lara, on the other hand, was completely alone.
When writing How To Climb The Eiffel Tower, I wanted Lara’s cancer to be more than a disease. I wanted her illness to be a metaphor for Lara’s history of sexual abuse destroying her from the inside out. Cervical cancer is one of the few cancers that is known to be caused by a sexually transmitted virus and also can be successfully cured when detected in an early stage. Lara’s cancer was a direct result of her sexual abuse and its treatment was a literal eradication of her past. The beauty of fiction is that we can manipulate the facts to turn out the way we want them to be. Getting cancer really was the best thing that ever happened to her.
EEG: Rather than survival, your book is about rediscovering life, am I correct? Do you think that sometimes we "forget" to live our lives fully and it's not until we face such important "turns" in life that we finally stand up and live to our full potential?
EH: By all means I believe we forget to live our lives fully. Most of us concentrate on simply getting through the day and lose sight of the big picture. Experiences like a cancer diagnosis, the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job can stop us in our tracks and force us to reassess where we are going in life. Impermanence is hard to ignore when it smacks you on the back of the skull with a board. This can lead to large changes like changing careers or divorcing your spouse, or small things like becoming a vegetarian.
In the case of Lara Blaine, the cancer diagnosis forces her out of self-imposed isolation and opens her up to human connection. Allowing people to care for her teaches Lara how to love again.
EEG: From your bio: "Elizabeth Hein writes about the people that go unnoticed in everyday life." What inspires you to tell their stories?
EH: I am inspired by the stories of ordinary people quietly facing extraordinary challenges. You truly see what a person is made of when they are under pressure. I could write about people in exalted positions performing heroic acts, but I want readers to see themselves in my characters. If Lara and Jane can get through cancer treatment, other people can too. The everyday provides plenty of drama if you look closely.
EEG: Tell us about your current writing projects. When's the expected publication date of your next novel?
EH: I am working on several projects right now. The project I am trying to concentrate on is called "The House," largely because an abandoned mansion is one of the main characters. The frame story of this novel regards Kai Hast, a woman in her late forties, who has recently discovered that she is an heiress and has inherited a mansion in Massachusetts. As Kai slowly renovates the house, she discovers things about the lives of her mother, her aunt, her grandmother, and the first Mrs. Hast. This novel is a bit of a departure for me. It is my first foray into historical fiction. It is also the first time I am playing with multiple points of view, as well as parallel story lines taking place in different time periods. I hope to get this novel published sometime in 2016.
The other project I am working on is the sequel to my first novel, Overlook. The working title is Escape Plan and picks up where Overlook leaves off with the same two main characters and a few new characters. Where Overlook dealt with infidelity and gossip, Escape Plan will deal with domestic violence, guilt, and the limits of friendship. I am also sketching out a novel set on Cape Cod and a travel mystery series.
EEG: That's all very exciting. Best of luck to you, Elizabeth and congratulations!
Find out more about Elizabeth's new book How To Climb The Eiffel Tower and her future book releases by following her on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.